Slow Travel: What it Is and Why You Should Try It

Slow travel – are you familiar with it? I hadn’t heard of this concept until the past year or so when I started meeting people who worked remotely or traveled for a living. (Yes, those people do exist, making a living off of sharing their travel stories through blog, video, and the like. I can assure you I am not one of those people making a living from my traveling. But I digress.) There are so many benefits to slow travel that I was surprised I’d never considered it before. Cost, environmental impact, impact on your body, and opportunities to understand the local culture are just a few of the reasons to give it a try.

 

Suitcase Six building Slow Travel: What it Is and Why You Should Try It
A beautiful building I saw on one of my long walks through the city of St. Petersburg. I probably would have missed it if I’d had less time and had to take a taxi instead.

 

Let me ask you a question. Have you ever been on a vacation that felt so hectic you needed another vacation to recover when you returned home? I remember a two-week trip through the United Kingdom so jammed packed with activities that I was sick for two weeks when I came back. I know I’m not the only one to experience this. How many times have you replied “It was great, but I’m exhausted and not ready to go back to work,” when someone asked you how your vacation went? Now imagine this slow travel alternative:

 

You wake up in a new city on the first day of vacation. You’re jetlagged, and on a normal vacation day you’d feel pressured to power through it knowing you only have a few days to see all the top sights. Instead, you know you’ve got plenty of time to see it all so you go for a leisurely breakfast, enjoy a latte while you read a chapter of your new book, and head back to bed for a nap.

 

In the afternoon, you feel more rested and ready to do a bit of exploring. You make it to a flea market that operates only on Saturdays. You’d ordinarily miss this because your limited days would be packed with famous monuments and museums, no time left for off-the-beaten-path attractions. But with two weeks to spare, you know you’ll hit the museums another day. You enjoy your time at the market practicing your language skills with the vendors and grabbing some unique souvenirs you didn’t see in the main souvenir shops.

 

A few weeks later, your language skills are much improved, you’ve met some locals and fellow travelers, and feel like you’ve really come to understand a bit of the local culture. When it’s time to come home, you feel ready and refreshed.

 

Sounds nice, doesn’t it? To be fair, we don’t always have the luxury of time. You might only get a week or two of vacation a year, or have a big event to get home for. When it comes to vacation, I generally believe a little better than none!  But if you can afford to take a few weeks, whether on a vacation or a break between jobs or working remotely, I think you’ll find slow travel an incredibly refreshing experience.

 

Suitcase Six temple Slow Travel: What it Is and Why You Should Try It
A beautiful Buddhist temple I got to see in Ulan-Ude when my slow travel through Russia let me stop by this lesser-travelled city.

 

Why Slow Travel Costs Less

 

When you break down the costs of any trip, your expenses are generally coming from three main categories: transportation, accommodations, and food. Of course, tours and activities can rack up a bill too, especially depending on what you’re doing, but these can vary a lot and aren’t as essential as getting to a location and having a place to stay and food to eat while you’re there.

 

Slow Travel: Transportation

 

Transportation costs can go way down when you travel slowly for a few reasons. When you’re considering getting from city to city, you have more time to take slower transportation methods. These tend to be less expensive, and fortunately, tend to be more sustainable. If you’ve got a month in Norway, you can more easily spend a day taking a train through the countryside rather than a flight. You save money, get the luxury of observing the insane Norwegian views through the train window, and help save the environment by traveling more sustainably.

 

When it comes to on-the-ground transport within a city, you’re likely to do the same thing. Say you’re visiting St. Petersburg for two weeks before moving on to Moscow, rather than only a spending few days there. You might find you have more time to master the St. P subway system instead of taking a taxi. Since you likely won’t want to hit more than a museum per-day on a longer trip, you can even spend some extra time to walk to your destination too. More sustainable, much cheaper, and you’ll have time to explore another side of Russian life, whether it be taking the metro or soaking in the incredible buildings on your walk through the city.

 

Suitcase Six train Slow Travel: What it Is and Why You Should Try It
I took the Trans Mongolian Railroad through Russia. It took a lot longer than flying from Moscow to Mongolia directly, but let me stop at several cities along the way and really enjoy the journey.

 

Slow travel means you’ll be spending a lot more time in one destination – maybe your entire trip in one or two cities. Contrast that to trying to fit four countries into a three-week trip (as I’ve attempted before) and you can easily see how your transportation budget is cut in half, or more!

 

Not to mention you’ll probably have much more energy and time, which go hand-in-hand to allowing you the maximum exploration opportunities!

 

Transportation is exhausting, whether you’re sitting on a bus, train, or plane. Don’t underestimate it – the mental energy to navigate foreign transportation systems and the physical time spent traveling always wears me out. You might have the energy to sight-see after a six hour train ride for one evening, but you’ll be worn out and exhausted if you try to do that every day, jetting from one city to the next.

 

Slow Travel: Accommodations

 

This may seem counterintuitive, but hear me out. While slow travel might imply you’re spending more days on the ground, thus spending more time in accommodations, it’s not always the case that it ends up being more expensive.

 

The first way this can work out is from long-term accommodations. You might be able to secure long-term rentals – apartments, deals in hotels/hostels/airBNBs, or even short-term leases if you’re able to commit to several weeks or months in a location. Much like rental cars, the price-per-day often goes down the longer you rent. And you simply can’t explore these options if you’re ony in the city for three days.

 

The second way you can save major money on accommodations is through volunteering gigs. Two examples are Trusted Housesitters  and Workaway, though there are many others.

 

Trusted HouseSitters

 

On Trusted Housesitters, you create a profile similar to a social media profile where you can upload references, provide background checks, and verify your trustworthiness. Then you can apply to housesit at gigs around the world! Some of these are quite literally just watching the house while the owner is away on their own vacation, while a lot of the others are pet sitting. You’re expected to watch over the house and/or the pets while the owner is away.

What’s in it for you? Free accommodations! I spent a week a bit north of London watching two dogs and staying in a two-story duplex for $0. I was able to take the tube in to London whenever I wanted, cook meals for myself, and explore around my local area so long as the dogs were fed, walked, and watered. Pets are obviously more responsibility, and it must be taken seriously when you’re responsible for someone else’s place, but I saved hundreds of dollars that week on food and lodging I would have spent if I were staying in a hotel.

There’s an annual registration fee (around $115 I think, though I have a referral code that you can use for a 20% discount: RAF135887) but I made this back within one single gig. Most gigs are a week or more, so you can see how slow travel makes this possible where it wouldn’t be on shorter trips.

 

Workaway

 

Suitcase Six Sunflowers Slow Travel: What it Is and Why You Should Try It
This sunflower field was right outside my house during my Czech Republic workaway!

 

Workaway is more of a volunteer platform, offering free accommodations and often most meals with your host, in exchange for around 20 hours (max) of volunteer work each week. Again, this requires some reliability and commitment. You’re expected to show up and do the work or it will reflect poorly on your profile. But it’s an incredible way to experience local culture, volunteer in a way that is making a direct impact, and save a ton of money.

 

 

I spent a week helping an English teacher in the Czech Republic, serving as the native speaker during the 4-hour class each morning. I ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner with my host family. I was even invited on a few excursions to the pub, lake, and a party with her friends where I got to see what life was like for Czechs on a regular day. (Spoiler alert: a lot like my life in Indiana!) My host picked me up from the train station, so my only expense for that entire week was the train ticket into the city and a round of beers during a meal.

 

Currently, I’m volunteering at Re-Do Backpacker Hostel and Pub. It’s a recycling hostel where most of the goods are either donated by community members or built by volunteers. I’m helping set up a GoFund me to raise funds for keeping the hostel going, but also have helped with some craft projects and general cleaning and upkeep. I volunteer four hours a day four days a week, and get a free bed in the dorm room and a chance to explore the city in South Korea I’m staying in which is an amazing exchange! You can book a room for about $23 a night right with views of the sea from the huge rooftop balcony, and beers available without leaving the hostel!

 

There are all manner of gigs on Workaway. You can teach English, help on farm, provide babysitting services, help at a hostel or hotel, do construction work with a local family, build a website for a new hotel – just about anything you can think of is on there. The catch is that most gigs require at least a week, some asking for a month minimum. This is where slow travel comes in – you could commit to a few months in a city and live there virtually free if you’re willing to do a bit to give back!

 

Sign up for workaway here;  it’s only about $35 per year which will pay off in about 1-2 days of saved accommodations depending on where you visit.

 

Suitcase Six sunflower-peace Slow Travel: What it Is and Why You Should Try It
Slow travel meant I had plenty of time for a full-on photo shoot without bothering any of my fellow travelers.

 

What about my home?

 

Great question, glad you asked. If you’re paying rent on a place at home and want to get away for a few weeks, considering putting your house up on Trusted House Sitters for someone to watch it. Alternatively, you could do a short-term rental or sublet or post it on AirBNB to make some money while you’re away.

 

These types of slow travel accommodations also lend themselves well to those of us who are “homeless” and have sold our lodging back at home, or are in between moves. This is my current situation, in fact. I was living at my mother’s house, who was living with her new husband. When I left for my trip, she put the house on the market and sold it. No rent, no utilities, no bills for me. When I return home, I’ll be moving in with my boyfriend at his apartment. My accommodation costs when I’m traveling are truly often less than what I would have been paying for an apartment back at home – I’m saving money by traveling!

 

Slow Travel and its Lessened Impact on Environment

 

As I’ve alluded to earlier, slow travel can have a much smaller impact on the environment than a faster paced trip. The biggest reason is because of the transportation. Less transportation, or more sustainable transportation (fewer flights and more public transit/walking) means less carbon emissions. You can read more about that here, but it’s a good thing, I promise.

 

Accommodations-wise, you’ll be more likely to find homestays or housesitting gigs rather than staying in hotels. This means less of the unsustainable practices that hotels are infamous for, like providing tiny plastic travel size shampoos for every single guest. Even if you are staying in hostels and hotels, if you’re there longer you can opt to have them wash your sheets and towels only when they become dirty rather than on a daily basis. You’ll save tons of water – and tons of plastic if you leave the toiletries behind. (Let’s face it, you only get about one good shampoo out of those anyway. Try some of these more sustainable hygiene options if you haven’t yet.)  

 

Finally, when it comes to food, you’ll be more likely to do some of your own cooking on multi-week trip in a city than if you’re there for a few days. This is especially true if you’re housesitting, doing a homestay, or staying in a hostel where there’s a kitchen. More cooking means cheaper costs for you, but also a chance to be a customer at a local farmer’s market or grocery store. In these cases, the odds are your food will have travelled a lesser distance, and your money will go back toward the locals rather than giant chains and corporations.

 

To make sure this is the case, look for locally-run restaurants rather than famous chains when you eat out for meals. You’ll get a much better taste of German culture (for example) if you hit up a local café rather than a Starbucks, anyway.

 

Suitcase Six flowers2 Slow Travel: What it Is and Why You Should Try It
Stop and smell the roses – and other flowers!

 

Exploring the Culture through Slow Travel

 

It may not be a surprise that you’ll be able to dive into the culture much deeper through slow travel. When you’re in a place for more than a few days, you’ll start to get adjusted. You can begin to look beyond the street signs and major landmarks once you’re acclimated and start noticing the smaller details, what the locals are wearing, reading, how they’re interacting with each other, where they frequent.

 

You’ll have time to learn the language a bit, beyond just the bare-bones basics. (Which you should try to do wherever you go, for however short a visit). When you begin to learn the language, you’ll be able to connect more with the locals and learn from them through conversation as well.

 

You’ll also be able to get beyond some of the major tourist sites and start uncovering the hidden gems. After all, have you been to every museum and monument in your home town? Likely not, and neither have the locals in the cities we visit. I love a good museum or walking tour, but I can’t pretend to assume that’s a realistic glimpse into daily life in the place I’m visiting. It’s more of a history lesson, if anything, which is great in its own right but quite a separate thing.

 

If you’re doing a homestay, this is even more true! You’ll learn so much from observing someone’s daily routine from start to finish. Helping out the locals with their personal projects will give you a great glimpse into life in that country, and allow you to ask questions you couldn’t otherwise without pestering the innocent person on the subway station.

 

Suitcase Six family Slow Travel: What it Is and Why You Should Try It
A family I stayed with in Ulan Ude (minus my actual host who was away for this picture, and plus 3 extra friends of their young son.)

 

Slow Travel: Final Thoughts

 

I hope I’ve convinced you to consider slow travel on your next trip. Again, I know it requires a luxury of time that not all of us have. That said, I challenge you to really ask yourself if you can make it work for you. There are plenty of people giving it a try, from solo-travelers, to couples, to families, relocating temporarily in cities around the world. Your shorter vacations are amazing and memorable too, but I can guarantee that your slow-travel experience will be one you’ll learn more from than any few days you’ll spend in one city. Not to mention you’ll be doing a lot to save our beautiful planet while you’re out there exploring it.

 

So, let me know what you think! Are you a slow-travel fan? What have you learned, and what did I miss in this post?

 

If you’re not convinced yet, what’s holding you back? Where would you go if you could try slow travel for the first time?

 

Drop a comment below to let me know your thoughts, or send me an email and let’s have a chat. I’d love to learn from you and hear about your global adventures. Happy travels! XX

 


THANKS FOR READING SLOW TRAVEL!

Looking for more posts about slow travel and other related topics? Try these next:

Oslo to Bergen: A Train Ride To Remember

20 Tips for Sustainable Travel

8 Environmentally Friendly Adventures To Discover Around The World

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Sarah is a 24-year-old working in juvenile justice who loves to travel the world (if you haven't gathered that already). I'm a proud cat mom, coffee-addict, and Harry Potter fanatic with an over reliance on list-making. Welcome to my little slice of the internet, where I'll try to convince you that work and travel are NOT mutually exclusive.



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